Why Angelyne Embraced Her Peacock Bio-Series, Then Rejected It
Angelyne left a mark on Los Angeles as the 1980s version of an influencer, the image of her atop her pink Corvette splashed on billboards around the city. For a woman who put her image out so prominently, she’s also been notoriously private — from hiding her own real-life background, to turning against the Peacock series exploring her life that she’s also an executive producer on.
“She’s a rebel, and she does what feels right for her, and we respect that,” Angelyne star and executive producer Emmy Rossum told LAist. “I think the show is a real love letter to her — I hope she knows that.”
Streaming on Peacock, Angelyne is based on a 2017 investigative story from the Hollywood Reporter that revealed details including her real name, her parents' background as survivors of the Holocaust, and more. Angelyne authorized the show early on, giving her life rights in return for reportedly $1 million and a role as executive producer.
Now Angelyne herself has filmed and plans to release her own documentary about her life next month.
She grew up in the Los Angeles area, but found escape in creating an image of herself as a blond starlet.
“Such great care is taken [by Angelyne] to curate every moment and protect the audience from knowing too much about her, lest that color, or take away from, the magical Tinkerbell, punk Barbie fairytale that she represents,” Rossum said.
Embraced And Rejected By Angelyne
Rossum first saw one of Angelyne’s billboards in the late 1990s while she was in L.A. for an audition.
“I discovered her on a billboard, the way that she was meant to be discovered — the billboard queen,” Rossum said. “She was this incredible image — this blond, glamorous, impervious, totally sexually empowered female.”
The show plays with Angelyne’s loose connection to the facts and the difficulty in pinning down her past. From the beginning, text on the screen explains that the scene we’re seeing is either 1981 or 1982, adding that it depends on who you ask. The series is framed around a faux documentary, with various storytelling flourishes throughout.
“When we look at Angelyne, we think, ‘Here’s an unconventional woman, and let’s tell her story in an unconventional way,’” Angelyne showrunner Allison Miller said.
That includes dance numbers, as well as characters who contradict each other.
The Peacock series explores Angelyne’s persona, while admitting that there are limits to the insight it can provide into the real Angelyne.
“I mean, there’s a reason we decided to start the series with sections of a billboard being assembled,” Miller said. “We’re taking flat parts and we’re assembling them into an image of a person. We’re losing the dimensions of a real person, as hard as we try.”
They decided to tell a story about fame and identity. But eventually, the show’s creators say they had to step away from the research and make a show.
“This isn’t a biopic. This is about, maybe, the failure of biopics to be able to really fully illuminate a person,” Miller said. “And to have those people point it back at us and say that we’re also trying to tell someone’s story and failing, because who can really tell someone’s story but themselves?”
The investigation into Angelyne’s true identity becomes part of show’s own plotlines. A fictionalized version of the reporter behind the 2017 article and his quest to find the truth plays a bigger role as the five-episode series proceeds.
Rossum spoke with Angelyne about the version of her past depicted in the Hollywood Reporter piece, along with other legends about her life.
“I asked her if she had any advice for me in playing her, and she told me that I should tell the story the way I saw it,” Rossum said. “When I read that [Hollywood Reporter] story, it added a depth and a darkness, and the possibility that her parents could have survived the Holocaust added a real poignancy and a depth to the woman, and to the strength that she had to rise up like a phoenix, and take Los Angeles by storm.”
It helped Rossum connect with Angelyne as a fellow Jewish woman, according to Rossum.
“Even if that’s not part of the story of Angelyne for Angelyne, it was an interesting potential story for me,” Rossum said.
The show’s creators tried to find the connective tissue between this unknown version of Angelyne, shaped by the trauma of the Holocaust and seen in just a handful of available photographs, and who she ultimately became.
The Empowerment Of An Angelyne Transformation
While Rossum’s work as an actress means disappearing into a character, she felt that Angelyne was doing the opposite by creating a whole new identity for herself. Angelyne took how she felt on the inside and changed her outside to match.
“I personally portray it as a weaponization of your sexuality and femininity,” Rossum said. “To idolize the Barbie doll, to make your body almost superhuman, so that you can’t get hurt.”
The show utilizes a variety of Hollywood magic to transform Rossum into Angelyne. The creative team also had access to hundreds of hours of Angelyne footage dating back to the 1970s, which Rossum went back to in order to isolate her mannerisms. They picked out phrases she used and worked to create something inspired by the real person.
I’d never experienced people staring at me in that way.
Rossum recalled the power she felt the first time she had the full look on, including prosthetics.
“Obviously, to have been in a 32, small B body my whole life — to finally have the hair, and the chest, and the walk, and the wiggle, and the heels, and to be strutting across the Universal lot on my way to a presentation for the network to get our green light, in full prosthetics and regalia — I’d never experienced people staring at me in that way,” Rossum said.
She was used to people staring at her as a notable actress, but this was something new.
“That was an otherworldly power,” Rossum said. “[Angelyne] also knows that people underestimate her based on how she looks, and so she has the upper hand in every room she walks into. Because people don’t assume she will be as smart, and as business savvy.”
“There’s something so fascinating to me about someone so certain about who they are, right? Because the rest of us seem so unsure all the time,” Miller said. “Her being so comfortable in her body, and someone who’s not ashamed of her body then or now, is really empowering for me to see.”
Rossum described Angelyne as the strongest woman that she’s played. The role ended up being her most challenging and most fulfilling, Rossum said, and it was a long way to get there. The project took four years to come to fruition as it faced pandemic delays and dealing with a complicated real-life subject.
“We ended up losing some of our locations during COVID — they just don’t exist anymore, places we planned on shooting,” Miller said.
Despite that, it still includes a wide range of iconic locations that local viewers will recognize. You get everything from the streets that Angelyne’s billboards looked down on, to characters meeting at Hollywood’s 101 Coffee Shop (which permanently closed during the pandemic).
The show is a love letter not just to Angelyne, Rossum said, but to Los Angeles itself, “about the kind of fantasy that you can create when you move [here], and how you can shape your identity almost out of clay and fairy dust in Los Angeles, in a way that you can’t anywhere else.”
Angelyne is the quintessential L.A. celebrity, Miller said, because you have to come here to see her. She wants to be found, still driving around Hollywood in her pink Corvette, ready to grab the attention of all those around.
The Extremely Private Public Persona
While considered a prototype for famous-for-being-famous stars of recent decades — consider Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian — she’s in some ways the antithesis of that, keeping most of her life hidden from public view.
“She’s the first person who decided, ‘I don’t need to be famous for something that I do,’” Rossum said. “‘It’s me — it’s my personality, what I represent and who I am, how I make people feel — that I should be celebrated for.’”
When she was young, Rossum recalled, she asked who Angelyne was — and received completely different stories from different people, thanks to the icon’s status as something of an urban legend.
The show’s creators were sensitive to protecting Angelyne’s privacy, despite her reservations that ultimately turned her against the project.
“[Angelyne] even gave input on the scripts. There were things that were specific that she wanted us to remove, and we did that,” Rossum said.
Angelyne has given interviews to several outlets, including Inside Edition and the Daily Mail, saying that the show misrepresents her and complaining about the heavy prosthetics Rossum wears — she even briefly blocked Rossum on Instagram. Angelyne has also tried to distance herself from the Hollywood Reporter’s deep dive into her past.
Rossum said that she felt Angelyne wanted to keep her image from being too dark and nuanced, from humanizing herself instead of portraying a fairy tale.
Maybe Angelyne is giving the public something by not giving them too much, Miller mused. She wonders whether, as a culture, “we’ve done ourselves a disservice by ruining that mystery — by demanding to know all the information about each other.”
Angelyne is out now on NBCUniversal streaming service Peacock.